David Morrison / Labour & Trade Union Review – 2007-05-17 23:08:26
John Simpson’s Cock and Bull Story
(May 4, 2007) — On the 4th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, John Simpson, the BBC’s prestigious World Affairs Editor, revealed why the British Government thought that Iraq had “weapons of mass destruction” in March 2003, when it hadn’t. He told BBC viewers the following cock and bull story :
“I’ve gathered from government sources over a period of time that British intelligence had two or three agents on the fringes of Saddam Hussein’s inner circle here [in Baghdad]. But they weren’t close enough to Saddam to know the best-kept secret of his rule: that at some stage in the 1990s, he got rid of most of his weapons of mass destruction. But why should he want to keep that a secret? British officials believe it’s because he was afraid his neighbour, Iran, would take advantage of his weakness, and invade.”
Reading that, you would never guess that, time without number in the years before the invasion, Iraq stated categorically that it didn’t possess any “weapons of mass destruction”. It didn’t make a secret of its lack of “weapons of mass destruction”, in order to deter Iranian aggression, or for any other purpose. On the contrary, it shouted from the rooftops that it had none –—but apparently not loud enough for the BBC’s World Affairs Editor to hear.
On many occasions, Iraq stated that it had fulfilled the disarmament obligations imposed upon it by the Security Council after the Gulf War. These were contained in a series of resolutions beginning with Resolution 687  passed in April 1991, which demanded that Iraq give up chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, and missiles with a range greater than 150 kilometres, and “undertake not to use, develop, construct or acquire” these weapons in the future.
Resolution 687 also established a Special Commission of inspectors (aka UNSCOM), which, together with IAEA nuclear inspectors, was to effect disarmament and set up a permanent system of monitoring to ensure that Iraq didn’t develop any of these proscribed weapons in future.
John Simpson says that Saddam Hussein “got rid of most of his weapons of mass destruction” at some stage in the 1990s, and kept this a secret from everybody but his inner circle.
The latter is simply untrue. It was well known to UN inspectors that Iraq had destroyed loads of proscribed weapons and related material in the summer of 1991, instead of declaring their existence to UN inspectors. Indeed, Iraq insisted that it had destroyed all proscribed weapons and related material that hadn’t been declared to the inspectors and destroyed by them.
One doesn’t need a deep throat in the British intelligence services to know that Iraq destroyed lots of its proscribed weapons and related material. All one has to do is read the reports by UN inspectors to the Security Council on their work.
For example, the final UNSCOM report, drawn up in January 1999  (after UN inspectors were forced to leave Iraq because Clinton and Blair were about to begin a bombing campaign) lists the unilateral destruction by Iraq of a vast array of proscribed material — missiles, missile launchers, warheads/bombs (conventional, chemical, biological), bulk chemical and biological agents, and much more besides.
The BBC’s World Affairs Editor, who has been reporting regularly on Iraq for many years, doesn’t seem to know any of this.
Hussein Kamel Says ‘All Destroyed’
Nor, apparently, does he know that MI6 had intimate contact with a member of Saddam Hussein’s inner circle in August 1995. This person told MI6 in August 1995 that Iraq had unilaterally destroyed everything that hadn’t been declared to UN inspectors and destroyed by them, and that Iraq no longer possessed any “weapons of mass destruction”.
The person in question was Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law, Hussein Kamel, who left Iraq for Jordan. For almost a decade, he had been in administrative control of Iraq’s proscribed weapons programmes, as the director of Iraq’s Military Industrialisation Corporation, so he was in a position to know even “the best-kept secret” of Saddam Hussein’s rule. In February 1996, he returned to Iraq and was assassinated.
He even gave a TV interview with CNN on 21 September 1995. Asked by Brent Sadler:
“Can you state here and now – does Iraq still to this day hold weapons of mass destruction?”
“No. Iraq does not possess any weapons of mass destruction. I am being completely honest about this.”
A transcript of this interview can be read on CNN’s website  today.
Hussein Kamel said the same thing to a UNSCOM/IAEA team, led by the then head of UNSCOM, Rolf Ekeus, which interviewed him in Amman on 22 August 1995. This was first reported by Newsweek a few weeks before the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 (see, for example, ). Shortly afterwards, a 15-page “note for the file” on the interview (headed UNSCOM/IAEA SENSITIVE) came into the public domain . In it, Hussein Kamel is quoted as saying:
“All weapons – biological, chemical, missile, nuclear were destroyed.” (p13).
On chemical weapons, he said:
“All chemical weapons were destroyed. I ordered destruction of all chemical weapons.” (p13)
Earlier (p7), he described anthrax as the “main focus” of Iraq’s biological weapons programme and when asked “were weapons and agents destroyed?”, he replied: “nothing remained”.
Asked about the 819 Soviet-made missiles Iraq was known to have purchased in the 1980s, he replied:
“Not a single missile left, but they had blueprints and molds [sic] for production. All missiles were destroyed.” (p8)
The BBC’s World Affairs Editor apparently knows nothing of this.
Hussein Kamel Valuable Informant
In the months before the US/UK invasion of Iraq, the US and UK Governments continually cited Hussein Kamel as a valuable informant about Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction” and as proof that interrogation of Iraqis who participated in these programmes, rather than detective work by UN inspectors, was the way to locate and destroy them.
On 18 March 2003, for example, Prime Minister Blair told the House of Commons :
“In August , it [Iraq] provided yet another full and final declaration. Then, a week later, Saddam’s son-in-law, Hussein Kamal, defected to Jordan. He disclosed a far more extensive biological weapons programme and, for the first time, said that Iraq had weaponised the programme— something that Saddam had always strenuously denied. All this had been happening while the inspectors were in Iraq.
“Kamal also revealed Iraq’s crash programme to produce a nuclear weapon in the 1990s. Iraq was then forced to release documents that showed just how extensive those programmes were.”
Plainly, in the Prime Minister’s opinion, Kamel had provided valuable, and reliable, evidence about Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction”. But the Prime Minister chose not to divulge to the House of Commons that Kamel had also told UN inspectors that “all weapons — biological, chemical, missile, nuclear were destroyed”. Had he done so, of course, the House of Commons would not have voted for military action against Iraq a few hours later.
Iraq Study Group
After the invasion, the CIA established the Iraq Study Group (ISG) to find Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction”. The key finding of its report  published on 6 October 2004 was that Iraq possessed none of military significance when the US/UK invaded in March 2003 (see Chapter 1, page 64). It also found:
“Following unexpectedly thorough inspections, Saddam ordered Husayn Kamil in July 1991 to destroy unilaterally large numbers of undeclared weapons and related materials to conceal Iraq’s WMD capabilities.” (Chapter 1, page 46)
It seems that Hussein Kamel told the truth in August 1995.
Why Did the BBC Not Tell Us?
A member of Saddam Hussein’s inner circle defected in August 1995 and said on the public record that Iraq no longer possessed “weapons of mass destruction”.
In the months prior to the invasion of Iraq, when the existence or otherwise of these weapons was of intense public controversy, one might have thought that the BBC would have drawn Hussein Kamel’s revelation to public attention, and would have asked the Government to explain why such an otherwise reliable witness was apparently deemed unreliable when he said that Iraq no longer possessed “weapons of mass destruction”.
One might expect a senior correspondent like John Simpson, with a long history of covering Iraq, to have raised this issue. But to the best of my knowledge he didn’t, not even when, following a Newsweek story and the publication of the UNSCOM/IAEA “note for the file”, there was a brief flurry of media interest in what Kamel had told UN inspectors in August 1995.
The British and American Governments quashed the story by telling a barefaced lie – both Governments denied that Kamel had said in 1995 that Iraq no longer possessed “weapons of mass destruction” (see my article ).
Instead, John Simpson’s contribution to informing the British people about Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction” just before the invasion was as follows (in a “profile” of Saddam Hussein broadcast, for example, on BBC4 on 9 March 2003). Speaking about UN weapons inspectors, he said:
“They spent eight frustrating years combing Iraq, but their efforts were thwarted at every turn by Saddam’s grip over his own people. Eventually the inspectors were thrown out. It had been an unequal struggle. As they left, they suspected that Saddam had kept much of his deadly arsenal intact.”
(Compare that to the words of Rolf Ekeus, the first head of UNSCOM, who was asked at a seminar at Harvard on 23 May 2000, if he thought Iraq had been “qualitatively disarmed”. He replied :
“I would say that we felt that in all areas we have eliminated Iraq’s capabilities fundamentally. There are some question marks left.”
The invasion of Iraq was justified by Prime Minister Blair almost entirely on the basis of these “questions marks”.)
I have good reason to remember John Simpson’s words because I made a formal complaint to the BBC about them on the grounds:
(1) that the inspectors were not thrown out by Iraq, but withdrawn for their own safety because Clinton and Blair were about to bomb Iraq, and
(2) that the statement that UN inspectors “suspected Saddam had kept much of his deadly arsenal intact” was contrary to what they had written in their reports.
I asked that these errors of fact be corrected.
A year later, on 19 April 2004, the BBC’s Head of Programme Complaints finally conceded that “the phrase ‘thrown out’ should not have been used in relation to that withdrawal” and a note to that effect appeared in the BBC’s Complaints Bulletin. No correction was broadcast. However, I was told:
“On your other point, about the inspectors suspecting ‘that Saddam had kept much of his deadly arsenal intact’ you made a strong case for thinking that viewers would not have appreciated the extent to which Saddam’s arsenal had in fact been depleted (though ‘much’ is an indefinite term). However, I remain of the view that John Simpson’s words were defensible as an encapsulation of information he had been given in lengthy conversations with one of the inspectors.”
Apparently, the BBC considers that the appropriate way to establish what UN “inspectors suspected” in December 1998 is talk to just one of them in 2003 and take that as the opinion of them all, without checking this single source against the plethora of official reports by inspectors in 1999 and earlier, in which a very different view was expressed.
(My complaint to the BBC, and the extensive correspondence which followed, is posted on my website . It took nearly six months before I got an initial response, which contained a factual howler, and rejected both elements of my complaint. My reply pointing out the howler was ignored until I wrote to the Director General six months later. Apparently, there had been a lot of illness in the BBC Complaints Department which had delayed the BBC’s reply. )
Four years later nothing has changed. John Simpson presents as fact a cock and bull story derived from “government sources”, designed to excuse the Government for taking military action against Iraq for having “weapons of mass destruction”, when it had none. According to the Simpson story, the Government had no way of knowing that Iraq had no “weapons of mass destruction” in March 2003, since “at some stage in the 1990s” Saddam Hussein secretly “got rid of most of them”, and British agents weren’t close enough to Saddam to learn about this “best-kept secret of his rule”.
The fatal flaw in Simpson’s story is that Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law told MI6 about this “best-kept secret of his rule” in August 1995.
 See www.publications.parliament.uk